The following days flew by so quickly. Jude got into the routine of rising early, meeting Hennessey at the station and travelling with him to the base. On day five, they were joined by a further 4 trainees. Glass was a no-nonsense woman from Hamburg and James Wibberley (or Wib for short) was Indy North English. Add to that Maxie and Kristof, who seemed to be a couple, from Mars Central. They all appeared competent and far more skilled than Jude, who was struggling with some of the more engineering-focussed aspects of the orientation. Fortunately, this was where having been originally teamed with Hennessey proved to be in her favour. He patiently went over the basics of topics such as propulsion, thermal control and orbital dynamics with her. Still, it was clear that Jude was the only one of them who didn’t seem to come from some kind of technical background. However, she was pleased to find that it did, in its own way, make sense to her in the way that music had never done.
Jude devoured every piece of information she had been given. For someone who had never given astrophysics a second thought as she travelled the planet or flitted between moons with no more thought than she ordinarily gave to hopping the train for T-City to the Kakuda training, she was now fascinated. She read the old time classics of Sagan, Hawking and de Grasse Tyson (and an Indy North English guy from the early two-kays that Wib had put her onto. He was a bit of babe, this Brian Cox. Pity he was long dead.) She bugged Hennessey for information, getting him to tell her about his satellite training. He was in a much better frame of mind nowadays. On the train in one morning, he could barely contain his excitement.
“Chief has managed to pull some strings for me. He says they want me on the team and for that I need to be fit and well. So in a couple of weeks, I’m going to Yokosuka, to the US Army hospital of all places.”
“They’re going to do your surgery? That’s wonderful news.”
“Well, only the first stage. Chief convinced them that my heart and lungs will respond better to space working if I’m not restricted. And he says after a few months, once I build up some credit, they’ll put up the cash for the full works.”
In the second week, Chief Howe gathered them together in one of the labs. He reported back that they were all progressing well and that it had been decided to move them on to their first paid assignment. The company had won the contract to refurbish and bring online one of the first generation space stations, which, like so much of what had been launched into space had been left there, no matter whether it was in use or not. A large part of Cee Cee’s (as everyone seemed to refer to the organisation, although Jude had also heard it being used in reference to the boss, the waspish Miss Chouinard) operation was taking these decommissioned habitats and bringing them back into service. There was a large and vocal lobby of what the media called “space hippies” who challenged every new venture by pointing out the amount of broken down and malfunctioning (if it was functioning at all – most of it was dead floating space junk) tech already in low orbit, interfering with not only satellites but travel and trade. The days of “Big Sky Theory”, where space had seemed limitless were far behind. So it made sense that companies such as theirs take on lucrative contracts to recycle and repurpose what was already up there.
This particular space station, one of the earliest commercial ones, had been launched by the Chinese a decade ago. It was a fairly standard set up, comprising of a basic cargo block, the service module and habitat, research and storage modules and several add-on nodules, airlocks and hubs. The plan was for the team to ensure it was space-tight and fit for re-use.
“So, are we going to be jetting back and forward each day then?” asked Kristof
“Oh no, that would be far too costly,” Howe replied. “You’ll be going up and staying up til the jobs done.”
There were groans from some.
“And just how long do you think that will take?” said Maxie.
“We’re hoping you can turn it around in, say, 5 weeks. At the most.”
Five weeks, thought Jude. From what she had managed to pick up on so far in her training that seemed like a really short window in which to completely gut a station, never mind have it ready to be redeployed.
“A long time.” Glass contradicted Jude’s musings.
The German fixed Jude with her gaze. “You ever been up there for more than a couple of days? Not travelling but just up there?”
Jude shook her head.
“A long time. A long, lonely time.”
Jude didn’t have time to ponder her colleague’s lack of enthusiasm. She busied herself with cramming as much tech into her head as she could – Hennessey teased her on the trips back and forth on how she devoured manuals and spec. He went off for his surgery and returned literally a new man. He wore the skin tight coveralls now with pride.
She had to give up her apartment, which was a wrench as she really liked it and knew that she probably would never find as one as good again for the price – but she was a cosmic cleaner now, and as Chief Howe kept stressing to the, home was now other people’s flotsam and jetsam. Jude didn’t have much to put in storage – her lives on the road had resulted in her travelling light for the most part. She also had to put off another task that she had been meaning to deal with for a while now.
Coop was waiting for her in the bar, seated at the booth in the far corner. It was quiet for a Saturday night, just a hum of blues in the background. Jude slipped into the seat opposite her ex-wife.
“So, this is it, huh? Leaving me for the wide blue yonder. Cast adrift for the promise of glory among the space garbage.”
Jude smiled. Coop could always raise a laugh from her, that’s one of the things she had loved about her. Still did, maybe.
“Yep. But I’m going to be up there watching you, making sure you stay out of trouble.” Jude reached across and took Coop’s hand in her own.
Coop laughed. “Chance would be fine thing. I’m really proud of you babe. Always was, always will be.”
Jude looked into the eyes of her lost love – why couldn’t it have worked out for them?
As if reading her mind, Coop spoke. “But I’m too much of a player.”
“We were kids. The J-pop sensation and her roadie. We had fun.”
Jude had met Coop, or Annie Cooper, as it said on her ID pass, back in the brief period of her pop music career. Annie had been working tech for one of the stadiums in Hà Nội. Jude had liked how she had sound checked for her, among other things. They had married in New Taipei City, shattering the poor little hearts of thousands of fan girls. And that of her mother.
“You’re only a child.” Dory had protested via uplink from Phobos, where she and Tomeo were on tour of the Martian moon colonies.
“I’m eighteen, Haha (in the days when she still called her mother that – this was probably the very last time she remembered doing it, to be honest). I’ll be nineteen in a couple of months.”
“And she’s twenty eight.” Her mother disconnected and Jude stubbornly refused to call her back.
Her mother didn’t come to the wedding. But her father sent her a small jade pendant in the shape of an Iriomote cat, which had belonged to his mother. “For my yamapikaryaa, “the hand written note with it said, “That which shines on the mountain.”
“Yeah, but fun wasn’t enough for us.” They both sighed dramatically, as they always did. There was no animosity here, just a little sadness.
Coop let Jude’s hand go and took a sip from her glass. “So when do you ship out?”
“Early Monday. I’m heading to the base late tomorrow and from there we’ll hop over to Uchinoura for launch.”
“I’m going to miss you kiddo. But I bet you’ve already got your sights set on someone, if I know my girl.”
Was it that obvious? Jude blushed a little. Coop laughed again.
“Fakking knew it! Who is it? Some shiny fly boy? Or one of those cute receptionists? Whoever, they’ll never love you like I did.”
Or still do, Jude thought.
Sunday evening found Jude in a hotel room in Chōfu. The bulk of the day had been spent packing away her T-City life in preparation for her first long space stay. As she had said to Glass, apart from hops between Earth and Moon or Mars, or the occasional week-long cruise with her parents on tour, she had never been off-world for as long as this upcoming sojourn. And in low gravity too. Again, Chief Howe had stressed to them how much he’d love for them to work mostly in normal g, budgetary constraints meant for the most part they’d be working in the minus zone. Fortunately, Jude enjoyed working in lower gravs. And she was looking forward to trying other things.
Talking of which, she rolled over to face the sleeping form beside her. She reached under the sheet. Eyes opened, forest green with long dark lashes. A mouth sought hers.
“Mmm, what time is it?” her lover groaned.
“It’s only nine. We have to check out before eleven and head over to Kakuda by three a.m. to make final preparations.
“Plenty of time for this then.” Wib rolled onto Jude and kissed her again.